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On Your Side

Just Say No to Sales Calls

Salespeople can overstay their welcome. Here's how to guard against high-pressure tactics.

Imagine going shopping for a new appliance and being held captive by a salesperson. Your only means of escape: Make a purchase or somehow force your captor to leave the showroom first! It sounds improbable, yet that’s pretty much what can happen when you invite a salesperson into your home.

All this came to mind when I received an e-mail from Howard Kletter of Ocala, Fla. He wrote about elderly friends who were, in his words, “fleeced by a Kirby Vacuum salesman for $2,000.” Kletter contends that the couple, who both have Alzheimer’s disease, fell victim to a Kirby rep who gave them an in-home demonstration. At length, the couple agreed to buy a Kirby Sentria “home care system” that included a floor shampooer, canister vacuum and floor buffer — more than they needed or could ever use.

Days later the couple realized they were in over their heads and tried to return the items to the distributor — Kirby products are sold by a network of independent distributors — but no one returned their calls. At that point, Good Samaritan Kletter stepped in and contacted On Your Side. When I told Kirby the facts, the company pressed its distributor to provide a full refund.

I’m grateful to Kirby for its compassionate stance, but the lesson here isn’t about the aged and frail. All of us need to learn that in-home sales are a dicey way to shop. Your home may be your castle, but it’s never high ground in a sales call because you can’t walk away — your best defense against high-pressure tactics. Twenty years of counseling consumers has taught me that many of us have a difficult time turning down a pitch when the showroom is our living room. It’s human nature. We don’t like disappointing people. (If this weren’t true, I’m not sure anyone anywhere would ever buy a timeshare.)

Sales professionals call it the exchange principle: “If I do something for you, then you are obliged to do something for me.” In this case, the rep has taken the time to come to your house, carrying along whatever samples and supplies are needed for the “no obligation” demonstration, so we feel obligated. And they know that. It’s why sales reps value appointments almost as much as orders — they know that if they can get through your front door, they have an excellent chance of closing the sale.

So the next time you get that call for a “free in-home demonstration,” flash back to Nancy Reagan in the 1980s and Just Say No.

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